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Report: NCAA could change penalties for academic cheating

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

When it comes to academic fraud, the NCAA's been consistent in one area: if the fraud happens outside of an athletic department or college players, the NCAA usually steps aside.

Thinking is: If a university has academic impropriety happening at a level that transcends what's going on with only players, then it's a university issue and not the NCAA's call to step in.

But that could be changing.

A report in the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests the NCAA is rethinking its approach to punishment in these instances. The most recent and infamous example is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Many students -- some in sports, some not -- were found to have participated in phony courses within the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.

"An academic scandal that spanned at least 14 years and potentially more than 200 classes. Many of those enrolled were athletes," according to the most recent story on UNC's corrupt academic past from the Raleigh News & Observer.

The NCAA has acted in the past as a participatory consultant in UNC's own internal investigations, but it never took the lead on the matter because the reported fraud never happened solely through athletic channels.

Now the NCAA is considering when and how it should get involved in these types of spots. The Leadership Council is undergoing meetings this week, and the Board of Directors meets on April 24 to approve or deny any suggested alteration in legislation that's been put forth by the Council. From the Chronicle:

In recent months, at least one NCAA committee has debated scenarios in which an athletics department could be cleared of academic fraud through independent or institutional reviews but still face the possibility of NCAA sanctions.

It's unclear how often that might happen, but some critics believe the NCAA should have more ability to intervene.

Some members of an NCAA task force on academic integrity have argued that the association's references to academic fraud and integrity issues are "ambiguous" and "too lean."

...

Changes in the NCAA's definition of academic fraud would probably not have much impact on the frequency of academic impropriety, said John Bruno, a longtime faculty athletics representative at Ohio State who serves on the NCAA's Division I Academic Cabinet and its task force on academic integrity.

And such changes have some colleges concerned.

"There's worry in terms of autonomy issues about the NCAA stepping in and trying to do more," said Mr. Bruno, a psychology professor. "One of the points I have raised is that, when their systems are working properly, institutions have very prescribed ways of dealing with misconduct and fraud. The NCAA needs to be very careful about usurping some of that jurisdiction or even redefining it so they're dealing with fraud in a way that's different than the institutions are."

It is among the trickiest of spots for the NCAA. When does it get to deem what's worthy of further involvement or punishment?

How frequent is the cheating and how often is it happening primarily through athletic departments/personnel -- and explicitly for athletes? That's a tough call for the NCAA to determine, no matter the scenario. Each possible nefarious situation can be different, and reasoning over what the right punishments should be remains the grayest of areas for the organization to govern.

The UNC story continues to unfurl, by the way. On Tuesday, Dan Kane of the News & Observer published a report about Deborah Crowder and her upcoming role in the latest UNC investigation. Crowder is one of the two former UNC employees alleged to be responsible for arranging so many students to take bogus classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.

What Crowder tells investigators -- and the report states she's already had meetings -- could have massive impact on the story and UNC's athletic past. If it's found that she helped arrange dozens of former student-athletes knowingly take bogus courses, it could, minimally/possibly, lead to vacated records from seasons past for certain teams, football and basketball among them.

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